Thursday, October 28, 2010

Rob Winger, The Chimney Stone, ghazals

Ghazal for the Birthday Hotel

Why insist on records? Better build
an eavestrough, discover brick, sleep.

Let’s get this straight: does setting the chimney stone
promise fire?

Ordered calendars and icing:
why shuck the grave’s nightdress?

The ice buckles under a hot stream
in the urinal.

Takhallus; suit yourself;
get to the bloody point.

Listen, idiot wind, the body won’t serve
until you forget it.
Long an admirer of the North American ghazal, Rob Winger, with his second poetry collection, The Chimney Stone (Gibsons BC: Nightwood Editions, 2010), adds his own voice to the storm. It’s not always easy to construct a collection out of such a form, admittedly not as overused or loaded as the sonnet; still, the Canadian ghazal, brought into prominence by John Thompson through his posthumous Stilt jack (1976), inevitably brought just about everyone along for the ride, with notable works by Phyllis Webb, D.G. Jones, Douglas Barbour, Catherine Owen, Andy Weaver and even my own attempt, a compact of words (2009). 

There were many others who attempted, but did little or nothing to propel the form. Moving from the documentary long poem of his first collection, Muybridge's Horse (Gibsons BC: Nightwood Editions, 2007), what can Winger bring to the ghazal?
I’m tired of lyrics;
what else is there? (“Ghazal for Empty Nests”)
It has been known for a while that Winger was heading into the ghazal, including through his participation in “White Salt Mountain: A Gathering of Poets for John Thompson,” a conference that happened in Sackville, New Brunswick in November 2008, later appearing as a section in Arc Poetry Magazine #62 [see my review of such here], a section that included an extended essay by Winger on the Canadian/North American ghazal form. Structurally, Winger’s ghazals are more conservative than Thompson, something closer to Webb’s, Owen’s or Adrienne Rich’s, say, than Barbour’s pieces, and riff off a network of references, enough to fill three pages at the end of the collection in small type. His is a thoughtful form, speaking to an entire list of previous practitioners, from Rimbaud, Dionne Brand, Al Purdy, Michael Ondaatje, Christopher Dewdney, Dennis Lee and innumerable musical references. Why notes at all, I’d wonder? Still, what Winger brings is a collage effect to his pieces, tight lines that allow a breath of flexibility, scattered but held together, but not tight enough to confine, or choke.
Ghazal for Pas

Eadweard’s dead. He’s dead.
Chuck another lump on the fire, Scrooge.

The moon rose for you, too. I know that.
We’ve lost your bread crumbs in the undergrowth.

That’s not it. River; spring weed;
not the fossils.

It’s not Yasgur’s farm we’re after;
we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.

On the screen: bombs in Algiers, that torso torque;
each suitcase holds a thousand pixels.

(The difference between a sign and a song is
an I.)

Who’s anxious? John’s dead as a doornail, isn’t he?
Why am I paging apophrades?

Turn the band-saw teeth into your thumb.
I’ll keep piling blood.

Pearl, what are you waiting for, blinking that eye?
A burning thing, your cursor.

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